Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
My friend and I had seen this book everywhere, so we decided to see if it lived up to the hype. We both came out of our reading experience with a generally positive reaction, but found that our opinions began to dip lower the more we discussed it. If you enjoy books about the frontier and about Alaska, especially if those books have fairytale elements, you will probably have a good reading experience nonetheless.
Discussion questions below the cut!
How do traditionally feminine and masculine spheres relate in this book? Do they mix or do they stay separate?
Did you feel satisfied by Faina’s ending? Why or why not?
What do you believe the fox represented?
There are a couple spots in this book where Mabel definitely should have died – namely, when walking on the river at the start and when she runs into the forest after Faina and gets caught in a snow storm. What do you think this suggests about Mabel’s character, Alaska, or the wilderness in general?
If you have never experienced pregnancy or a miscarriage, did you feel disconnected at all from Mabel and Jack in the ways pregnancy overwhelmingly shaped their lives? If you have had these experiences, did you feel you understood the characters better as a result?
What reasoning did you feel was behind the lack of quotation marks whenever a person was engaged in conversation with Faina? Was the effect successful?
Do you feel the book “captured” the Alaskan wilderness? In what ways did the author attempt to do so stylistically?
Why have the “story within a story” of the fairy tale book? And why have it be in Russian, with the translation following later in the story?
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